The sins of the father weigh heavily in Ben Young’s “Devil’s Peak,” a new film that wants to be a modern “At Close Range” but doesn’t have the depth to carry its screenplay to the finish line.
Hopper Penn (son of Robin Wright and Sean Penn) is Jacob McNeely a young man living in Jackson County, NC who is cursed to bear his family name.
His father, Charlie McNeely (Billy Bob Thornton) is the head of a meth operation and one of the country’s major suppliers. Strangely, director Young doesn’t show enough of that world, failing to fully immerse the audience into the McNeely family crime business.
Jacob is struggling to keep his soul from being corrupted and completely consumed by the devil that is his father.
Billy Bob Thornton hasn’t performed this powerfully in years, he is so talented an actor, he makes something memorable out of his character that certainly wasn’t on the page.
Charlie McNeely is dangerous, being around him makes one feel as if a fuse has been lit. He can explode any moment. Thornton plays him ruthlessly, with an intensity that is absolutely frightening. In every menacing word and deceitful grin, Charlie is born and bred evil.
Jacob’s ex-con junkie mother (an underused Robin Wright) is in constant danger. Charlie worries she may give him up to the feds and keeps coming by her house to warn her. Wright is an intense and natural actress but her talents are not used fully. Any actress could have pulled it off what is an underwritten part.
The film entire is a textbook example of what damns most of today’s films. Beginning with the cast (Penn, Thornton, Wright, and the always-great Jackie Earle Haley), it is the screenplay that lets them down. Adapting the David Joy novel, “Where All Light Tends to Go,” screenwriter Robert Knott removes the poetry and depth of Joy’s work, stripping it down to cliches and uninteresting character arcs. After a decent setup, Knott fills the picture with an inescapable been there/done that feeling, bringing nothing new nor unique to the tale.
Director Ben Young gets good performances from his cast, but once their characters are established, he digs no deeper. Young’s film becomes another backwoods thriller that cannot to hold our interest.
Cinematographer Michael McDermott and his director also miss opportunities with the film’s look. Filmed in Cartersville, Georgia, there was opportunity to shoot the gorgeous wooded locations with their rolling hills and beautiful skylines. Instead, the film has a couple of drone shots (a blasphemous modern “filmmaking” technique) but mostly stays in close, causing the film to look like the hundreds of digitally shot pictures we get each year.
The film holds zero interesting visuals and suffers from shockingly inept framing.
A note to cameramen who use the digital camera mounted on their shoulders; stay still! Modern filmmakers and cinematographers endanger scenes by making the camera shake and move because its weight is getting to their shoulder muscles.
One word: tripods.
Adding to the film’s list of fails, the less said about Adam Spark’s pedestrian score the better.
“Devil’s Peak” is based on a consequential book that’s filled with depth, but director Young takes a story that could be mined for its Shakespearean drama potential and reduces it to formula-based cinema.
Sadly, the filmmakers cared nothing for their source material and made a so-so film that quickly slides into atrociousness.
When one spends the entirety of a film thinking of better writers and directors for the cast to work for, said film is in trouble.
“Devil’s Peak” is trouble. It’s a bad film.